Addicted to ACTION

Over the last 19 years of doing this work I’ve been part of my fair share of schemes, plots and plans to change the world. Maybe the first one was in the 10th grade when I decided that my school‘s environmental club was an elitist polo team in disguise and that students from my neighborhood needed to rally against environmental racism and classism. I spent three years committing random acts of justice designed to raise awareness for the injustice in my school, not really changing anything along the way – but definitely righteous.

After that I tromped through the ropes to learn what I know, working in a dozen small nonprofits and created half as many new programs, including a midnight basketball program in my neighborhood, a hands-on animal display at a nature center, and a soccer program for immigrant kids in the Midwest. In my three AmeriCorps terms I did a lot, too – but more importantly, I started stumbling upon people who cooked up ideas as often, if not more, as me. In my third term I learned about NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School, when I completed a class from their Wilderness Medical Institute. Thinking of the children and youth I’d grown up around and worked with I decided the greatest thing I could do was create a youth leadership development program in Nebraska that would draw students from across the region to learn the skills I felt changing my life – community organizing, youth development and other abilities I was using everyday. A friend of mine in New Mexico suggested I write that idea down and let it marinate – and that it has ever since.

Since then a lot of other people have come to me with their own ideas: one, a national youth org that was to act like an AARP for youth; another a social networking mechanism for youth activists; another a youth program led by children’s singer Raffi; another, a leadership development center for non-traditional youth leaders (sound familiar?); another, a resource library for youth action. All great ideas that I never saw come to fruition. I’m on the board of advisors for the National Youth Rights Association, and the board of directors of Kijana Voices, both of which are great ideas that have come to something awesome. I SUPPORT IDEAS. However, somewhere along the way I’ve started growing leery.

After having my own great idea go south I’ve become a little reticent to sign onto someone else’s great idea. Maybe its self-deprecating – I let down myself down big time, and don’t want to let others down, either. Maybe its self-insulating, a coping mechanism resultant from a rough childhood couched in feelings of disappointment. Anyway it goes, the fact of the matter is that I’m not as quick to sign onto the dream machine as I used to be.

An important point: I am not subjected to fools, and that’s not what this post is about. I am attracted to a lot of people who do radically cool work and who I would like to work with – and I’ve approached a lot of people as such, including my friend Elizabeth Baker, my mentor Henry Giroux, and Mike Males, all of whom rawk in their own respects. I am just a leery of my own dreams these days though, and I tepidly approach people now. I might be becoming a chicken of the highest order. I may also be recognizing my own inabilities, as well: I can only do so much.

All that said, I haven’t stopped dreaming, and I am addicted to ACTION. I’m still working on The Freechild Project and SoundOut, albeit in a less intensive fashion, and my new work is premised on a great idea. I’m working with a group of people led by the great Dana Bennis on a great idea focused on democratic education. But I’m not sure what is next. It has been proposed that I’ll become a neo-con ex-liberal sell-out, or something to that effect – I don’t think so. But what I do know is that I do want to dream it all up again, and then DO something about it. Who’s in with me?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Interesting News Items

Here’s some interesting news items as I get ready to come back from my late spring hiatus.

“Kids from higher income households just aren’t going into the labor market. They’re looking for things to put on résumés, and working at Dairy Queen or Wal-Mart just isn’t going to help you get into Wake Forest or Stanford. And they just don’t need the cash.” – An economist on the decline in teenage employment.

In other news, the Worcestershire Youth Cabinet in the United Kingdom is trying to convince local adults they aren’t trying to cause trouble – they’re just trying to get heard. There was a youth summit in Canton, Ohio last week where topics included recreation, youth employment, gangs, youth violence, drugs and alcohol, education, families, housing, teen pregnancy, respect, and entertainment and the media. Youth Today has exposed that the US federal government’s call for orgs to get juvenile justice money wasn’t really a competition – they already had their minds made up. My heroes at Future Voters of American are looking to score a HUGE victory in lowering the voting age in New York State. “Ain’t no power like the power of the youth cuz the power of the youth don’t quit.”

Evoke is a new youth-oriented magazine in Canada (but as always, I’ll remain suspicious of their intent to market youth culture to youth). In what may become an unfortunate new trend, Newtownabbey, United Kingdom might end their youth council because of an apparent lack of interest by local youth. Summarizing his 15 years experience analyzing it, sociologist Mike Males has called the American Media “a cesspool of anti-youth misinformation.” Speaking of which, the Nation magazine is hosting a youth writers contest. A new website called “Its Getting Hot In Here” features “dispatches from the youth climate movement” and offers a variety of posts from across the spectrum, including a recent piece exploring biofuels(!).

The UK Youth Parliament is concerned this month about whether voting will be made mandatory and they continue to shine the light on the British media’s phobia against youth. The 2008 CineYouth Festival is on in Chicago and the schedule has been posted. It seems someone has written a (brief) history of the so-called “youth vote” – as if youth vote in a bloc for the same things – but yes, I do get the point. Young people in Jamaica got together in a USAID-funded program to support national development in their country. (It always amazes me to see the US gov’t fund youth involvement and youth voice programs overseas, while spending almost no money on them here in the States.)

Finally, from The New York Times, here’s a former editor for a big gossip website on why she stopped blogging:

The will to blog is a complicated thing, somewhere between inspiration and compulsion. It can feel almost like a biological impulse. You see something, or an idea occurs to you, and you have to share it with the Internet as soon as possible. What I didn’t realize was that those ideas and that urgency — and the sense of self-importance that made me think anyone would be interested in hearing what went on in my head — could just disappear.

I will be back shortly – that I know.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Learning about Education: Basics for Students

As I completed the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum I compiled a list of basic knowledge about the education system students need to have in order to be effective school change agents. This is based on my experience working with hundreds of students in schools across the U.S., as well as consulting with teachers from a wide range of schools who are doing this work everyday.

An Overview of Public Schools

  • Intro to the School System
  • Reflecting on Your Education

Student Voice 101

  • Student Rights
  • Intro to Meaningful Student Involvement
  • Advocating for Students

Student/Adult Partnerships

  • Working with Adults Allies
  • Adults as Roadblocks
  • Action Research for School Change and Student Evaluations of School

Learning about Learning

  • Which 3 Rs today: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic or Relevance, Rigor and Relationships?
  • Understanding Basic Curriculum
  • Assessing School Performance

Learning Outside of School

  • Project-based learning, service learning and more
  • When Homework Matters
  • Out-of-School Learning
  • Homeschooling, Unschooling and Taking Control of Your Learning
  • Summertime Doesn’t Suck

The Politics of Schools

  • What Lies Behind, Underneath and Within Education and Reform
  • Standardized Learning and Testing
  • What Happens After the Test?
  • The Future of Schools

Let me know what you think, what’s missing, and what I should take out. Thanks!

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Recruiting Youth

I consistently get questions at workshops about recruiting young people. It can feel so hard to well-meaning adults to bring children and youth on board in the projects, organizations and communities where we so desperately want and need them to be involved. Today I drafted a tip sheet on recruitment for the Cloud Institute for Sustainability, and I want to share some thoughts I’ve had about recruiting youth for youth programs.

Lesson One: Market Your Brand.

I have learned that recruitment shouldn’t just be seen as a once-yearly activity shared in a little flyer and then forgot about. When its done best youth recruitment is seen as an ongoing process, just like advertisers do it: rather than simply launching Coke as a summer drink, its a year-around refreshment.

  • Raise Expectations. Instead of telling us about Cloverfield the month before it came out, movie watchers were bombarded with ads a year before it came out. By building a constant presence and a regular energy these products enforce their brands in the lives of youth. Youth programs should be branded in that same way by establishing a constant presence in the lives of young people.
  • Name A Value. In the same way that Sprite markets excitement and urbanity, youth organizations should market values, too: positive experiences, powerful ethics and pragmatic outcomes should be at the core of the message. Only then will we not have to market to youth based on benefit; instead the programs designed to serve them will be as ubiquitous as Coke, and something that all young people expect in their lives.

Lesson Two: Keep Youth On Board.

First off, let me say that YOUTH ARE NOT YOUR CUSTOMERS. They are not buying anything, and no, they are not consuming your programs. Consumption implies that they have no role in the development, production or re-invention of whatever you’re marketing. Young people must have a greater role than that.

  • Create Opportunities. The way to keep youth involved is by treating them as equal members in your activity, program or organization. Create opportunities for them to lead and grow through your activities. Engage young people in program research and planning, administrative leadership, facilitating and training other young people, evaluating activities and organizational governance.
  • Get Past Stereotypes. Make open communication and intergenerational transparency the norm in all of your activities. Young people can feel the investment your organization is making in them when they receive quality training and support throughout your activities, and when they have meaningful opportunities for reflection and evaluation. Only then will they want to stay involved, and for a few different reasons, the primary among them being the feeling of being involved. Experiencing power feels like everything else; sharing it feels like nothing else, because there are so few places in our society where that actually happens. Make it so.

Lesson Three: Engage Youth as Recruiters.

Maybe the most important method anyone can employ to recruit young people is to actually engage children and youth as recruiters.

  • Acknowledge Their Ability. My experience has consistently shown me that young people are more consistently more effective at recruiting other young people than adults are. Its seems so logical, because young people know how to relate to their peers and how share the issues with them in ways we don’t. They also know where and when to reach them. Make sure youth recruiters have all the information about your program you can give them, including information about sustainability, your program or organization, and the expectations and outcomes of activity.
  • Increase Their Knowledge. Every recruiter should be able to tell young people why they should get involved, who else is going to participate, whether there is going to be food, and how many people will be coming. Practice recruiting before doing it. That includes going over the approach, the message and the wrap-up.

There are a lot of other important considerations, too, and this is just a start. Let me know what you think are some other things to think about!

Essential Reading for Volunteers


Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the popularity and misconceptions many people and organizations have about volunteerism. Like the disease of alcoholism or the compulsion of adultism, it seems like there is a segment of American society that simply wants to volunteer – without knowing exactly why or how. I’m simply not sure about dispelling the myths within that assumption, but I do a lot of people have written and talked a lot about it. Here are some links if you want to learn more:

To Hell With Good IntentionsA 1968 speech by Ivan Illich focusing on the injustice perpetuated by American volunteers working in Mexico, and when contextualized in the light of modern “service” work, offers a startling analysis of the volunteer movement in America.

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? – In 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King laid out a clear analysis of the painful divide facing activists and community organizers. The problem is that we’ve fulfilled his worst fears. 1960s Connections he drew between Black Power, affirmative action and American segregation provide a clear glimpse into modern American apartheid; his prescriptions for community building, nonviolence and unity offer a roadmap for a different America.
Mentoring the Mentor – This book is a written conversation between Paulo Freire and a number of promoters, practitioners and detractors who have beef with his analysis. “The fundamental task of the mentor is a liberatory task. It is not to encourage the mentor’s goals and aspirations and dreams to be reproduced in the mentees, the students, but to give rise to the possibility that the students become the owners of their own history. This is how I understand the need that teachers have to transcend their merely instructive task and to assume the ethical posture of a mentor who truly believes in the total autonomy, freedom, and development of those he or she mentors.” (from Chapter Sixteen: “A Response” by Paulo Freire).

In the Service of What? The Politics of Service LearningIn 1994 a pair of university faculty wrote an academic analysis of service learning. They provided a basis for a lot of the modern criticism underway today, and allowed the service learning movement to breathe enough to allow critical thinking within its ranks. While that movement seems to have exhaled lately, Kahn and Westhiemer’s analysis is just as applicable today, and provides a great construct to learn from.

Purpose, Empowerment and the Experience of Volunteerism in the Community – In 2004 I adapted Hart’s Ladder of Youth Participation with a wider lens that attempted to explore volunteerism. Its an interesting glimpse into a few corners of my experiences that I need to look at some more.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Hip Hop Saves Youth

Another example of Freechild on the cutting edge: ABC News in Australia has posted a story about a hip hop project in Melbourne that is credited with helping young offenders change their lives. You might remember that about five years ago Freechild posted a webpage about Hip Hop Activism, emphasizing the power engaging young people in hip hop culture to create social change.

I say that while I’m listening to Talib Kweli, Brooklyn MC whose music always provides inspiration for my action. I would encourage anyone with an interest in hip hop to give him a listen, especially his new album Ear Drum.

Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see if the centralized hip hop movement will yet come through with anything significant – only time tells, right?

For more information, see these articles: Bay-area hip hop activism, Jeff Chang’s website, Music for the Movement, Hip Hop Uprising, and this Open letter from Saul Williams to Oprah Winfrey. “Radical” find for the day? Track down and listen to The Coup and Dead Prez do “Get Up”. Yeah.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!